Former Latrobe man gets hearing to decide on double-murder
A former Latrobe man who was released from prison having served 20 years on a double homicide conviction has been granted a hearing to determine whether the charges should be formally dismissed and prosecutors barred from retrying the case.
David J. Munchinski, 60, was convicted in 1986 of killing James “Petey” Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, at Gierke's home in Bear Rocks on Dec. 2, 1977.
In September, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled his conviction in Fayette County was “highly suspect” and tainted by evidence tampering, prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable “eyewitness” who was not at the murder scene.
In September, the appeals court ordered that all charges be dismissed if Munchinski, who is living in Florida, was not retried within 120 days, according to a motion from his attorney Noah Geary.
Fayette Judge Nancy Vernon on Thursday set a hearing on the motion for 9:30 a.m. June 14. She ordered the state Attorney General's Office to file a brief outlining why the charges should not be dismissed.
In a previous federal court filing, Deputy Attorney General Gregory J. Simatic argued the matter was moot because Munchinski has been released from prison.
For five years, the killings went unsolved until Munchinski and Leon Scaglione of New Alexandria were arrested based on a statement to police by informant Richard Bowen. But his statements to police were inconsistent, court records show.
Bowen claimed he drove the two men to Bear Rocks on the night of the murders.
But evidence showed that Bowen was in Oklahoma at the time of the murders, and the car he said he drove to Bear Rocks was not purchased until six months after the killings. Bowen later committed suicide.
After two trials, Munchinski and Scaglione were convicted of murder and sentenced to consecutive life prison terms. Scaglione died in prison, but not before he admitted to the killings and exonerated Munchinski.
Munchinski began an appeals battle that resulted in a federal judge in Pittsburgh overturning his conviction. The state appealed the dismissal, but the federal appeals court in Philadelphia upheld the lower court's decision.
The court noted that Fayette County prosecutors withheld a dozen pieces of evidence from defense attorneys that could have exonerated Munchinski.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org